For GRUNGECAKE, Chinonso Ihekire catches up with the singer, double backing the stories behind the songs; the ‘tension’ theme; as well as other major highs of his career and what it all means for him. He wears a brazen smile, as his device camera flickers on. It’s around midday in London, where he has been visiting Stamford Bridge, among other things to promote his new album, Hypertension. It’s barely three days till its release and Bella Shmurda, a leading voice in African street pop, appears as vibrant as the themes that color the project.
In the 15-tracker project, which also features superstars including Not3s, Backroad Gee, Simi, among others, Bella is re-electrifying the stories on street life and survival that birthed the inspirations behind his career. Born and raised in an indigent suburb north of Lagos called Okokomaiko, Bella Shmurda is a meld of experiences of what it means to survive the harrowing realities faced by young, indigent and talented dreamers out there.
From songs including the smash hit “New Born Fela,” as well as the Omah Lay– assisted “Philo,” the album reverberates with a gentler, more mellowed and introspective version of him than his preceding EPs, High Tension Vol 1&2. The storytelling is as coaxing as the mid tempo percussions and synth-y piano chords; while the pacing is as crisp as the collaborations. Within Hypertension, Bella’s candor is as exciting to watch, seeing his stories, motivations and feelings hatch on this slow-ride type of record.
Q: Since you came into the industry, you have been pulling off the ‘tension’ tag. What’s it about?
A: Everyone has been asking me this question: ‘what’s with the tension you know?’ It’s just tension. I just want to tension people to know Bella is present, Bella is not going anywhere, Bella is here to make the music for life. And I see myself as a tension, you understand my music and everything.
Q: How did you get to this point? Take us from when you started
A: Okay. I started making music when I was growing up in Okokomaiko. That’s where I’m from, that’s where I was bred. Initially, my mum didn’t like it, because she was a teacher and she was not in support of me going out late at night. At a point she just had to let go, since it’s what I actually wanted to do. I had my studio in Okokomaiko where I do my recordings. It was very very stressful, especially the financial part. It’s very crazy when you love something but it involves money to push it. I had to do different types of jobs when I finished my secondary school just to gather money together. I also had studio sessions and a lot of things. Thank God we are here today and I’m part of the artistes that are dropping albums. It’s a good thing for me.
Q: Tell us about when you made “Vision 2020,” which is one of the records that has spot-lighted you.
A: Well, I was in the midst of a lot of things. I used to have this girl, she was my girlfriend. She got pregnant and I was still a young man. I didn’t even have money to feed myself, so we just had to do one or two things – she got rid of it. I was just down at that moment, everything was not going as I wanted and I think that brought the inspiration about vision 2020, you understand. So with Hypertension what are we looking to see, what’s the story like? Yeah, its just Bella in the middle of love and lust, because definitely, everybody gets to love sometimes. And there is lust too, you understand. It’s just me being in the middle of different things and I just had to put this record together and just make it Hypertension. So me making the album was not just vibes, its me in a love circle and being lost. So that is just Hypertension.
Q: From your fashion style to your stagecraft, what’s the inspiration behind Bella Shmurda the brand?
A: I used to be a tailor. I went to tailoring school. My mum used to be a tailor, so I think I got the fashion sense from that place. You know, I used to sew and all of these things and personally, I really love fashion. I’m a fashionista and I like clothes. I also like to put colors together. Sometimes, I call myself a stylist. I can see it in me. So me creating my brand is not easy getting your ground. Like people know this is your vibe, but with the help of my team, I can put myself together.
Q: On the album, how did you feel about the collaborations?
A: Okay, every feature we had on the album is exciting. These are like people whom I really feel their music. Shout out to Simi, she sent me her verse like in a week. Shout out to Phyno, he sent his verse under 24hrs. Omah Lay is definitely a brother to me and we have this good energy, this good bromance, you understand. Shout out to everybody that’s on the album, to the producers and everybody. They really supported me and its a good thing for me.
Q: So what’s next for you now, say in your career, what are you looking forward to?
A: I’m looking forward to everything. I’m looking forward to getting my own Bella Shmurda “Dangbana” made outside there, diving into fashion fully, you understand. Everything music continues. Everything good after this continues. Everything good is next for Bella Shmurda.
Q: If you could describe your voice in one phrase, what would it be?
A: One of one. Nobody can sing like Bella Shmurda. You cannot have the same voice as me. You can just try, but it can never be Bella Shmurda. So it’s just one of one.
Q: Tell us three fun facts about Bella Shmurda?
A: Okay. I think people know I’m a tailor already. I don’t smoke weed. Yeah for real.
Q: Since when?
A: I don’t smoke weed anymore like I’m not a weed person. For about three years now, I haven’t smoked weed. My mom is a teacher and to some extent, I’m an introvert. I don’t go outside. I’m not an outsider. I prefer my space and just being myself.
Q: Speaking of outsiders, you were meant to be on Wizkid’s Made in Lagos record. What happened with that jam?
A: That’s to Wizkid. I did my part. Shout out to him. He put me on, so everything is good.
Q: Any final words for your fans?
A: Also, shout out to everybody. Shout out to all my fans. Don’t do drugs, stay in school
if you have to, get the right people around and enjoy life to the fullest. Life is short.